Amir turned off his motorcycle engine and took off his helmet. He exhaled and ran his fingers through his hair. Well, this is it, he thought. He got off the motorcycle, locked his helmet strap to the underside of the motorcycle seat and made sure he locked the handlebar as well. Then he walked the ten metres to the bar in which he had put off going to for the past three months.
He pushed through the door and took in the sights. Tables and chairs laid out rather tightly, lights just dim enough, the stage he’d been eyeing for several months now to his very left, a black leather couch to his very right, and the drink bar on the far corner of the room. A faint smell of beer wafted through the air from the glasses of the few patrons that were already there. It was a bout to get a lot more crowded as the night progressed, he knew. He was no stranger to the place, but that night, the place just radiated a different kind of light and energy. Everyone else seemed oblivious to it, though. It was as if the place was about to be shaken by an earthquake, but Amir was the only one who knew. He swiped the sweat running down his forehead and headed for Sathish at the bar.
“Hey, Amir! Glad you could make it!” Sathish got off the bar stool and shook Amir’s hand.
“Hey! Yeah, I made it!” Amir smiled and shook back while hoping that Sathish didn’t notice how sweaty his hand was.
“Well, I already wrote your name down for tonight. You’ll be on third, after two other people. They’ve done it before a couple of times, so they might be more comfortable on stage, but don’t let that discourage you. We’re all just here to have fun, alright? Would you like something to drink?”
All those words by Sathish at the same time made Amir even dizzier. He forced a smile, “Plain water would be great, thanks.”
“Plain water’s at the end of the bar there. You can go help yourself and make yourself comfortable while the place fills up, yeah?” Sathish smiled and put his hand briefly on Amir’s shoulder before turning around and went to go talk with what Amir could only conclude was the sound man.
Amir made his way to the end of the bar to get the plain water. He always had plain water here, so he was quite accustomed to where it was. It’s just that Sathish had never seen him there before kot. As Amir approached the plain water bottles, he felt something at the pit of his stomach. He needed to hurl.
He walked as calmly as he could past the plain water and through to the back where the restrooms were. He tried pushing the men’s toilet stall door, but it was locked. Damn, time ni la nak occupied kan? He noticed that the ladies’ right beside the men’s was vacant, and after a look around to make sure that nobody was coming, he went into the stall and locked the door behind him.
He bowed over the toilet bowl and wretched a couple of times. Nothing. He waited for a bit and breathed. He imagined the toilet bowl being filled with poop. Still nothing. He imagined it covering the walls and floor. He wretched some more. Still nothing. He put down the toilet seat and sat on the toilet while running both his hands’ fingers through his hair. The feeling in the pit of his stomach was still there.
He tried going over his poem again. Now / I take your time for just one minute / in hopes of pushing your minds to its limits / raise your spirits with pictures so vivid / drawn with words not a thousand, a hundred / take —
There was a knock at the door. Damn, he was still in the ladies’. Oh well, what to do? He stood up, flushed the toilet and opened the door. The woman at waiting outside gave a surprised look and looked at the door of the stall to check if she was mistaken. Amir did the only thing he could do, smile apologetically and mouthed sorry before rushing off to the bar area. Amir felt the woman’s eyes burning a hole through his back, but he couldn’t do anything about it anymore.
When he re-entered the bar area, the place had filled up significantly. Only a couple of tables were still empty, while all the others were taken up by people talking over their drinks while waiting for the open mic to start. Empty chatter and the clinking of glasses filled the airwaves. It was a popular joint for open mic performances. Maybe he had made a mistake, Amir thought to himself.
Microphone feedback disrupted the evening air. It was Sathish on the mic, getting the show started. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to tonight’s open mic performance organised by The Random Arthouse! We’ve got a great lineup for you tonight! First up, we have Yvette Ling, the songstress with her guitar and catchy tunes! Then up next we have Andrew Lim, who is going to be laying down some raps for us. Then we have Amir with a poem to share with us all. And finally, we’ll wrap things up with the singer-songwriter Eric, who most of you must know already by now! So let’s get this show started, with Yvette Ling!”
Amir made his way to the bar and took a bottle of plain water with him. He asked for a glass from the bartender and started pouring himself glass after glass of water. Every time he poured the water into his glass, he looked intently at how the water fell to the bottom of the glass, made its way halfway back up the walls of the glass and splashed back down while being flooded by the rest of the water. Then, only the calmness of the surface of the water. He drank up each glass, hoping that the calmness in the glass would transfer into his self.
“Hey, you got your poem ready?” Sathish asked right after Amir’s fifth glass.
Amir cleared his throat. “Yeah, I’m good.” Amir gave a half-hearted thumbs up.
Sathish smiled and put his hand on Amir’s shoulder for the second time that evening. “Don’t worry, you’re going to do great!” Sathish promptly went back to the stage and held the mic.
“Whoo! Now that was some smooth flowing by my man Andrew, or as he likes to be called MC Ayy. Be sure to check him out on Facebook, just type in MC Ayy, as in A Y Y. Or else, you’ll get a whole other kind of party. Haha, now, we make way for a poet by the name of Amir! Come up to the stage Amir!”
Amir staggered from his seat to the stage, trying ever so hard to keep his legs from falling from under him. He stood behind the mic on the mic stand and looked around the room. So many eyes, just looking at him. Why could’t they just sit there talking to each other and drink their drinks and be merry? Why did they have to pay attention to what was happening here? Amir cleared his throat.
“Em, hi there. Good evening. Everybody. So, I’ll be reciting to you guys a poem I wrote not too recently. It’s called ‘Vignette’. So, here goes.” Amir inhaled and exhaled. He closed his eyes.
“I’m sorry, hey now hey now don’t dream it’s over suddenly ran through my mind.” The crowd laughed and two or three people clapped their hands in encouragement.
“Okay, here goes. Now / I take your time for just one minute / in hopes of pushing your minds to its limits / raise your spirits with pictures so vivid / drawn with words not a thousand, a hundred / take my life, your life and theirs / examine them close like your yearly affairs / …” Amir closed his eyes, trying to remember the next line.
A few more people in the crowd clapped again to encourage the person on stage. He seemed like he was trying really hard, and they wanted him to succeed.
“Ummm,” Amir still couldn’t find the words. “I’m sorry, this is my first time ever doing this kind of thing,” Amir apologised with a nervous laugh. With that proclamation, all of the people in attendance clapped their hands and cheered Amir on.
“Ahaha, thank you all, very much.” Amir sighed and tried again. “take my life, your life and theirs / examine them close like your yearly affairs / … for in a … a million million years / I …” Amir couldn’t go on. “I guess, I guess that’s all from me folks, Thank you.” And with that Amir walked off the stage and tried to go back to his seat. He was surprised to hear people clapping their hands and cheering for him. Sathish shook his hand when he went down and said in his ear, “It’s okay, happens to all of us,” and went back to hosting the night. Even the people he passed by on the way to his seat shook his hand and patted him on the back saying “good job!” and “better luck next time!” It forced a smile out of him.
After the final performance, Amir went to say goodbye to Sathish. “Hey, it’s okay man! What happened up there happens to the best of us. I still remember the first few times I got on stage, the exact same thing happened. You’ll get used to it and you’ll get better, you really will! You should come back next month man! It’ll give you time to get your material down and you’ll do better, okay?” Sathish’s smile was very comforting.
“Okay, I’ll try. Thank you again for having me, man,” Amir returned the smile.
“Great! See you next month then! Same time same place!” Sathish finally let go of Amir’s hand.
“Alright, same time same place,” Amir waved as he pushed the door to exit the bar.
He walked to his motorcycle, savouring the night air. As soon as he arrived to his motorcycle’s side, he felt his stomach churning, his mouth salivating and his head spinning. He ran to the nearby drain and vomited into it. It was one of those clear vomits, where it was mostly water, with a few beads of rice here and there.
Amir spat the remains of the vomit in his mouth before wiping it with his sleeve. He checked himself in his motorcycle’s side-mirror and after making sure that he didn’t have any vomit residue on his face, he put on his helmet, got on his motorcycle and started the engine. As he put the motorcycle into first gear, he started reciting his poem back to himself.